At Real Madrid, José Mourinho is 90 minutes away from his first real failure

Martin Rose

José Mourinho is not accustomed to failure, but his reign could end in disaster and defeat if his Real Madrid side cannot pull off a miracle tonight.

If Jose Mourinho has a plan to get out of the hole he and his team find himself in tonight, then he really has outdone himself. For a long time it seemed as though he was following a strange path, but one that would ultimately lead to success and glory. Yet as his whole reign built up to the climax of the Champions League campaign, his entire tenure at Real Madrid seems to have evaporated in the space of 90 minutes.

Porto ended in one of the most unexpected Champions League triumphs of recent times. Chelsea resulted in the formation of a team of phenomenal longevity. Internazionale saw yet another European success against the odds. At Real Madrid, a club of greater size and stature than all of the three previous, there is a league title and a Copa del Rey. It's simply not enough.

Following last season, where full advantage was taken of Barcelona's poor form, this was supposed to be the big one. A disastrous league campaign could be written off because the Champions League was the real goal. Mourinho's men would reign triumphant at the top table, proving once and for all they had the greatest team.

The problem at Real Madrid has always been one of a team - the individuals have never been in question, but elevating them beyond the sum of their parts was difficult, the policy of signing high-profile players leading to friction and a lack of thought as to how they would operate together. A master disciplinarian like Mourinho, skilled at negotiating minefields of dressing-rooms, ought to have been the man to finally put the pieces together into something cohesive.

Despite his replacement being more responsible than anyone for Real's progression from a difficult first-round tie against Manchester United, the Iker Casillas spat was the final straw for many Madridistas both in the stands and the boardroom. Mourinho, it appears, has been defeated by the club - the problems that he sought to address, of unmanageable superstars and ill discipline in crunch matches, will look as unaddressed as ever if his team cannot pull off a miracle tonight. It would be his first failure in his career - and a man who appeared to always hold all the cards in every situation would end his reign as a failed experiment.

The question marks, however, should rather be over Real Madrid. Having only really overhauled Barcelona when their rivals simply entered a trough in form, they were outdone again by a team almost in the image of the Catalans in Dortmund, whose emphasis on teamwork once again revealed how desperately vulnerable Madrid can be. The policy of recruitment that the team followed, and the culture of the club that persists as a result, are more culpable for their failures than any manager. When Mourinho came for Casillas, it showed the limits to his power. Nobody knows just yet where he will end up after he brings his time in Madrid to a close, but if he has any sense - and he does, he's Jose Mourinho - it'll be somewhere that has slightly less emphasis on politics.

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